Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Indu Prakash. December 4, 1893
New Lamps for Old — 7
I am not ignorant that to practical men all I have written will prove beyond measure unpalatable. Strongly inimical as they are to thought in politics, they will detect in it an offensive redolence of dilettantism, perhaps scout it as a foolish waste of power, or if a good thing at all a good thing for a treatise on general politics, a good thing out of place. To what end these remote instances, what pertinence in these political metaphysics? I venture however to suggest that it is just this gleaning from general politics, this survey and digestion of human experience in the mass that we at the present moment most imperatively want. No one will deny, – no one at least in that considerable class to whose address my present remarks are directed, – that for us and even for those of us who have a strong affection for oriental things and believe that there is in them a great deal that is beautiful, a great deal that is serviceable, a great deal that is worth keeping, the most important objective is and must inevitably be the admission into India of occidental ideas, methods and culture: even if we are ambitious to conserve what is sound and beneficial in our indigenous civilisation1, we can only do so by assisting very largely the influx of Occidentalism. But at the same time we have a perfect right to insist, and every sagacious man will take pains to insist, that the process of introduction shall not be as hitherto rash and ignorant, that it shall be judicious, discriminating. We are to have what the West can give us, because what the West can give us is just the thing and the only thing that will rescue us from our present appalling condition of intellectual and moral decay, but we are not to take it haphazard and in a lump; rather we shall find it expedient to select the very best that is thought and known in Europe, and to import even that with the changes and reservations which our diverse conditions may be found to dictate. Otherwise instead of a simply ameliorating influence, we shall have chaos annexed to chaos, the vices and calamities of the West superimposed on the vices and calamities of the East.
No one has such advantages, no one is so powerful to discourage, minimise and even to prevent the intrusion of what is mischievous, to encourage, promote and even to ensure the admission of what is salutary, than an educated and vigorous national assembly standing for the best thought and the best energy in the country, and standing for it not in a formal parliamentary way, but by the spontaneous impulse and election of the people. Patrons of the Congress are never tired of giving us to understand that their much lauded idol does stand for all that is best in the country and that it stands for them precisely in the way I have described. If that is so, it is not a little remarkable that far from regulating judiciously the importation of occidental wares we have actually been at pains to import an inferior in preference to a superior quality, and in a condition not the most apt but the most inapt for consumption in India. Yet that this has been so far the net result of our political commerce with the West, will be very apparent to any one who chooses to think. National character being like human nature, maimed and imperfect, it was not surprising, not unnatural that a nation should commit one or other of various errors. We need not marvel if England, overconfident in her material success and the practical value of her institutions has concerned herself too little with social development and set small store by the discreet management of her masses: nor must we hold French judgment cheap because in the pursuit of social felicity and the pride of her magnificent cohesion France has failed in her choice of apparatus and courted political insecurity and disaster. But there are limits even to human fallibility and to combine two errors so distinct would be, one imagines, a miracle of incompetence. Facts however are always giving the lie to our imaginations; and it is a fact that we by a combination of errors so eccentric as almost to savour of felicity, are achieving this prodigious tour de force. Servile in imitation with a peculiar Indian servility we have swallowed down in a lump our English diet and especially that singular paradox about the unique value of machinery: but we have not the stuff in us to originate a really effective instrument for ourselves. Hence the Congress, a very reputable body, I hasten to admit, teeming with grave citizens and really quite flush of lawyers, but for all that meagre in the scope of its utility and wholly unequal to the functions it ought to exercise. There we have laid the foundations, as the French laid the foundations, of political incompetence, political failure; and of a more fatal incompetence, a more disastrous failure, because the French have at least originality, thought, resourcefulness, while we are vainglorious, shallow, mentally impotent: and as if this error were not enough for us, we have permitted ourselves to lose all sense of proportion, and to evolve an inordinate self-content, an exaggerated idea of our culture, our capacity, our importance. Hence we choose to rate our own political increase higher than social perfection or the advancement, intellectual and economical, of that vast unhappy proletariate about which everybody talks and nobody cares. We blindly2 assent when Mr. Pheroz-shah in the generous heat of his temperate and carefully restricted patriotism, assures us after his genial manner that the awakening of the masses from their ignorance and misery is entirely unimportant and any expenditure of energy in that direction entirely premature. There we have laid the foundation, as England laid the foundation, of social collapse, of social calamities. We have sown the wind and we must not complain if we reap the whirlwind. Under such circumstances it cannot be superfluous or a waste of power to review in the light of the critical reason that part of human experience most nearly connected by its nature with our own immediate difficulties. It is rather our main business and the best occupation not of dilettantes but of minds gifted with insight, seriousness, original power. So much indeed is it our main business that according as it is executed or neglected, we must pronounce a verdict of adequacy or inadequacy on our recent political thought: and we have seen that it is hopelessly inadequate, that all our efforts repose on a body organically infirm to the verge of impotence and are in their scheme as in their practice, selfishly frigid to social development and the awakening of the masses.
Here then we have got a little nearer to just and adequate comprehension. At any rate I hope to have enforced on my readers the precise and intrinsic meaning of that count in my indictment which censures the Congress as a body not popular and not honestly desirous of a popular character – in fact as a middle-class organ selfish and disingenuous in its public action and hollow in its professions of a large and disinterested patriotism. I hope to have convinced them that this is a solid charge and a charge entirely damaging to their character for wisdom and public spirit. Above all I hope to have persuaded Mr. Pherozshah Mehta, or at least the eidolon of that great man, the shadow of him which walks through these pages, that our national effort must contract a social and popular tendency before it can hope to be great or fruitful. But then Mr. Pherozshah is a lawyer: he has, enormously developed in him, that forensic instinct which prompts men to fight out a cause which they know to be unsound, to fight it out to the last gasp, not because it is just or noble but because it is theirs; and in the spirit of that forensic tradition he may conceivably undertake to answer me somewhat as follows. “Material success and a great representative assembly are boons of so immense a magnitude, so stupendous an importance that even if we purchase them at the cost of a more acute disintegration, a more appalling social decadence, the rate will not be any too exorbitant. Let us exactly imitate English success by an exact imitation of English models and then there will be plenty of time to deal with these questions which you invest with fictitious importance.” Monstrous as the theorem is, profound as is the mental darkness which pervades it, it summarises not unfairly the defence put forward by the promoters and well-wishers of the Congress.
On us as the self-elected envoys of a new evangel there rests a heavy responsibility, assumed by our own will, but which once assumed we can no longer repudiate or discard; a responsibility which promises us immortal credit, if performed with sincerity and wisdom, but saddled with ignominy to ourselves and disaster to our country, if we discharge it in another spirit and another manner. To meet that responsibility we have no height, no sincerity of character, no depth of emotion, no charity, no seriousness of intellect. Yet it is only a sentimentalist, we are told, who will bid us raise, purify and transform ourselves so that we may be in some measure worthy of the high and solemn duties we have bound ourselves to perform! The proletariate among us is sunk in ignorance and overwhelmed with distress. But with that distressed and ignorant proletariate, – now that the middle class is proved deficient in sincerity, power and judgment, – with that proletariate resides, whether we like it or not, our sole assurance of hope, our sole chance in the future. Yet he is set down as a vain theorist and a dreamy trifler who would raise it from its ignorance and distress. The one thing needful we are to suppose, the one thing worthy of a great and statesmanlike soul is to enlarge the Legislative Councils, until they are big enough to hold Mr. Pherozshah M. Mehta, and other geniuses of an immoderate bulk. To play with baubles is our ambition, not to deal with grave questions in a spirit of serious energy. But while we are playing with baubles, with our Legislative Councils, our Simultaneous Examinations, our ingenious schemes for separating the judicial from the executive functions, – while we, I say, are finessing about trifles, the waters of the great deep are being stirred and that surging chaos of the primitive man over which our civilised3 societies are superimposed on a thin crust of convention, is being strangely and ominously agitated. Already a red danger-signal has shot up from Prabhas-Patan, and sped across the country, speaking with a rude eloquence of strange things beneath the fair surface of our renascent, enlightened India; yet no sooner was the signal seen than it was forgotten. Perhaps the religious complexion of these occurrences has lulled our fears; but when turbulence has once become habitual in a people, it is only folly that will reckon on its preserving the original complexion. A few more taxes, a few more rash interferences of Government, a few more stages of starvation, and the turbulence that is now religious will become social. I am speaking to that class which Mr. Manmohan Ghose has called the thinking portion of the Indian community: well, let these thinking gentlemen carry their thoughtful intellects a hundred years back. Let them recollect what causes led from the religious madness of St. Bartholomew to the social madness of the Reign of Terror. Let them enumerate if their memory serves them, the salient features and symptoms which the wise man detected many years before the event to be the sure precursors of some terrible catastrophe; and let them discover, if they can, any of those symptoms which are4 absent from the phenomena of our disease. With us it rests – if indeed it is not too late – with our sincerity, our foresight, our promptness of thought and action, that the hideous parallel shall not be followed up by a sequel as awful, as bloody and more purely disastrous. Theorist, and trifler though I may be called, I again assert as our first and holiest duty, the elevation and enlightenment of the proletariate: I again call on those nobler spirits among us who are working erroneously, it may be, but with incipient or growing sincerity and nobleness of mind, to divert their strenuous effort from the promotion of narrow class interests, from silly squabbles about offices and salaried positions, from a philanthropy laudable in itself and worthy of rational pursuit, but meagre in the range of its benevolence and ineffectual towards promoting the nearest interests of the nation, into that vaster channel through which alone the healing waters may be conducted to the lips of their ailing and tortured country.
Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 1890–1908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.
1 2002 ed. Vol. 6-7: civilization
2 2002 ed. Vol. 6-7: blandly
3 2002 ed. Vol. 6-7: civilized
4 2002 ed. Vol. 6-7: is